Disability Justice and Planning

Ableism, the discrimination and social prejudice faced by people with disabilities, is rampant1 across urban planning, architecture, real estate, and other design fields and this manifests differently across varying geographies and contexts. The SA+P Disability and Planning Initiative aims to challenge planners and designers to radically rethink approaches to inclusivity in our cities and built environments. The initiative provides the planning community with an opportunity to learn about and address ableism, while encouraging participants to incorporate an accessibility lens into their work. 

The Disability and Planning Initiative is informed by a social model of disability, rather than a medical one. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with a historical precedent for technology centered on problem-solving, has approached disability as a challenge to be overcome for individuals rather than an opportunity for us to change our built and designed environments to meet the needs of all kinds of bodies. 

In the fall of 2021, MCP students Natasha Ansari and Shannon Hasenfratz collaborated and advocated for incorporation of disability perspectives at DUSP. Throughout the semester they championed a conversation with departmental leadership, leading to an independent study course that could be further developed into a regularly offered course in the department. In the spring of 2022, the first iteration of the independent study was organized with the guidance of Professors Delia Wendel and Mariana Arcaya. Due to the high interest in the department, a weekly speaker series was planned commencing in the second half of the semester. 


1.  Terashima, Mikiko and Kate Clark. The Precarious Absence of Disability Perspectives in Planning Research. Innovations and Development in Urban Planning Scholarship and Research. Volume 6, Number 1. 2021. https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v6i1.3612

2022 Disability & Planning Speaker Series

The inaugural DUSP Disability and Planning Speaker Series was held during the second half of the Spring 2022 semester. The series was organized by Ansari and Hasenfratz and sponsored by the department. Five speaker events were hosted over the course of six weeks, with each event designed to accommodate in-person and Zoom participation by both speaker/s and attendees. All events were recorded and transcribed, and video recordings were edited to incorporate burned-in captions prior to distribution. 

The speaker series was primarily organized as an internal-facing resource for the School of Architecture + Planning (SA+P), but communities across the Institute, and from partner institutions were also invited to attend. 

  • Disability & Municipal Government
    • Speaker: Kristen McCosh, Disability Commissioner, City of Boston; Patricia Mendez, Director of Architectural   Access, City of Boston
    • Facilitator: Jeffery Levine
  • Disability & International Development 
    • Speaker: Dr. Michael Stein, Visiting Professor & Executive Director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability
    • Facilitator: Chris Zegras
  • Histories of Access & Who Gets It
    • Speaker: Dr. Bess Williamson, Associate Professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    • Facilitator: Larry Vale
  • Prosthetic Futures: Adaptive Design for the Worlds We Want
    • Speaker: Sara Hendren, Lecturer & Associate Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Design & Olin College of Engineering 
    • Facilitator: Garnette Cadogan
  • Critical Access Studies
    • Speaker: Dr. Aimi Hamraie, Associate Professor & Director of the Critical Design Lab, Vanderbilt University
    • Facilitator: Catherine D'Ignazio